Deviating from democracy

Published On: April 30, 2019 12:30 AM NPT By: Kanchan Jha

Democracy fails when leaders fail to address people’s aspirations, when citizens are fed with false dreams, when leaders live in luxury and people suffer

“When will republic mean something to a father who is at the airport in his flip-flop to see off his son departing for Qatar?” This was the question raised in social media last month.  The photograph of a father standing outside Tribhuvan International Airport to bid farewell to his son leaving for Qatar was disturbing. In this photo, even after his son goes out of sight, the father continues to look through the dark glass pane. When do the leaders feel something needs to be done to stop our youths from leaving the country? That was the question people asked.

This is how we vent our frustration in social media against our leaders and system. Sadly, leaders at the helm do not consider such questions seriously. They work more for their cadres than for common citizens.  When leaders become power-mongers, people are forced to endure corrupt system. 

Double standard

On March 8, government and CK Raut signed an 11-point agreement. Prime Minister K P Oli compared Raut with Pushpa Kamal Dahal, co-chair of Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Raut had just been released from prison following the court verdict. Raut was charged of sedition for advocating for Madhes as a separate country and held by the police on several occasions.  Some words of the agreement, such as janaabhimat, became the subject of debate. Only time will tell whether PM Oli used or abused the executive power in this case.

Around the same time, Kailali District Court issued a life sentence against Resham Chaudhari, an MP of Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN), projecting him as the main perpetrator of Tikapur carnage in Kailali, where nine police personnel had been killed. RJPN protested the court verdict and withdrew support from the government. Ironically, another figure, CK Raut, emerged as Prime Minister’s close aide. Was Resham Chaudhari guilty? Was the Kailali incident political? PM brought in CK Raut in mainstream after RJPN pulled out support.

Madhes is not the playground of one single party. Nepali Congress, NCP and other parties are represented from there. Why did the PM have to use Raut to hoist NCP flag in Madhesh? And why did Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who used to advocate for rights of Tharus, not oppose the decision concerning Resham Chaudhari? 

The government banned the activities of CPN group led by Netra Bikram Chand Biplav. The ban was imposed after the rumor circulated that Biplav group was plotting to murder Dahal. But who provided fertile ground for Biplav?  Why did not the government pay attention to violent activities of Biplav earlier? Biplav must renounce violence and come to peaceful politics but when did the government even try to address his concerns?

Centralizing powers 

Prime Minister Oli has brought under his office major institutions such as National Investigation Bureau, Department of Revenue Investigation and Department of Money Laundering Investigation. With this, it was supposed that these three agencies would become proactive. This is not the case. A bill was tabled in Parliament to allow Oli—on the recommendation of National Security Council—to mobilize Nepal Army. This shows the PM is actively engaged in centralizing powers.

Political transition has ended and we are in a federal republic now. It provides an opportunity for the PM to institutionalize the new system. But he looks bent on centralizing power. PM Oli’s public statements demonstrate that he is a development lover and an aspiring agent of change. But his actions do not support this. Our constitution does not envision a security mechanism that is mobilized and directed by the PM. Why does he want that power?

New IT Management bill, currently under discussion in the parliament, aims to curtail press freedom and freedom of expression. If the bill is passed, experts say, it will become a powerful tool to crackdown on dissenting voices and journalists. 

The activity of the government and the prime minister, at times, remind of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s style of governance. After Putin rose to power in 1999, liberal reforms began to collapse. Putin has used state mechanisms to subjugate those who stand against him. Putin today is known as symbol of what Fareed Zakaria calls ‘illiberal democracy’.

Oli seems to be treading on Putin’s path in Nepal. He is trying to use, judiciary, executive and legislative to consolidate power. He has weakened the fundamental values of democracy including devolution of power, independent judiciary, rule of law and press freedom.

In two years, after Oli came to power, there are fears that the government might sabotage democracy. Besides, rather than empowering provinces, he is centralizing power.  His government has not been able to properly balance relation with India, China and America either.

Democracy fails when leaders fail to address people’s aspirations, when citizens who have become victims of discrimination are fed with false dreams, when leaders live in luxury and people suffer. Unless such tendencies are corrected, even if we bring CK Raut and Biplav into the mainstream more CK Rauts and Biplavs will be born. Parliament must work for the people. The head of government must stand for good governance. Mere speeches won’t help. Government’s commitment to rule of law and good governance must reflect in its actions and conducts.

The author is an independent journalist, an Emmy 2016 Nominee, social activist and commentator on politics and crime

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